Black: Episode 1
OCN is back with a new mystery-thriller about one woman’s supernatural ability to not only see death, but interact with Death himself as they work together to save lives. Or at least, that’s what I assume will happen, because even though the premiere episode’s runtime came close to an hour and a half, most of it was setup for the characters and the spooky mysteries that are to come.
EPISODE 1 RECAP
A man slowly walks to the edge of a cliff before falling off of it, landing in the water below. He swims to a car that’s at the bottom of the ocean, covered in dirt and algae.
He desperately breaks the window to reveal a rotted corpse in the passenger seat. “Is it really me?” the man wonders.
It’s raining at a crime scene as rookie detective HAN MOO-GANG (Song Seung-heon) and his partner make their way over to the body that’s been dug up. As the CSI crew tell partner Na Kwang-kyun about their findings, Moo-gang retches at the sight and smell of the rotting skeleton, which causes him to lose his lunch all over the crime scene.
Apparently this is not the first time Moo-gang has contaminated a crime scene with his sensitive stomach, and in frustration, Kwang-kyun kicks him out of the way so that he can investigate (while picking off undigested bits off ramyun from the skeleton, ew).
The body was hit in the head with a blunt instrument, which indicates murder, and based on the shape of the skull, it’s assumed that the victim was a man. Kwang-kyun finds a mysterious gel-filled sack wedged between the skeleton’s ribs, though.
Moo-gang stops at a fast food place to get a bite to eat in order to settle his stomach, and the cashier, KANG HA-RAM (Go Ara), bluntly takes his order without looking at him. Not that anyone would know where she was looking — despite it being nighttime and her being indoors, she’s wearing sunglasses.
Her manager, annoyed at how rude she appears with the sunglasses, takes them off her — but she’s wearing another pair underneath. Ha! The manager removes those too, and she immediately shields her eyes as she demands that Moo-gang finish his order. Moo-gang is fascinated by the fact she won’t look at him, and she mutters that she’ll pull out his own eyes if he won’t stop staring.
Ha-ram sees a dark cloud behind another customer, and she suddenly grabs that customer’s arm and begs him to wait a few minutes. He’s an old boyfriend, actually, and he coldly tells her that the reason he dumped her was because she brings misfortune — apparently she had warned him about his mother’s death, which came to pass. The ex-boyfriend shakes her off and hurries out to his car… only to get fatally hit by a passing Truck of Doom.
Ha-ram returns home to her rooftop apartment and pops in a DVD of her favorite pretty boy actor. She pretends to hold a conversation with him, telling him about her recently departed ex-boyfriend.
Ha-ram blames herself for not trying harder to prevent him from leaving. She starts to cry, wondering if she really does bring misfortune and whether people die because of her. She calls out for her father, just like she did when she was a young girl, when she was scared that she could see the dark shadows.
Back then, her father gave her a pair of sunglasses, telling a young Ha-ram that they would help prevent her from seeing “the scary things.” Adult Ha-ram, looking over her collection of sunglasses, sadly says that she can’t endure it any longer.
Meanwhile, the detectives have dinner, and they’re all a little bit tipsy. They tell Moo-gang that he should eat, but when Kwang-kyun pretends an egg is a cow’s eye in their beef stew, Moo-gang gags and runs for the bathroom, his weak stomach once again about to betray him.
Unfortunately for Moo-gang, he has to pass other diners with their raw meat (and other stomach-churning parts of an animal), and ends up vomiting all over a gang leader. The gang leader and his men start beating Moo-gang up, stopping only when they realize that he’s a detective. The brawl turns into a drunken fight between the detectives and the gangsters as Kwang-kyun comes to Moo-gang’s rescue.
Moo-gang’s girlfriend, YOON SO-WAN (Lee El), makes him a birthday dinner and reminds him to call his mother more often. His mother is apparently worried about him, since he’s not exactly cut out to be a hard-boiled detective. Moo-gang shrugs it off as he goes outside, headed to a storage room — one that requires a retina scan to let him in. As he enters, he asks someone on the phone if they’ve “looked into it” yet.
Ha-ram prepares to go on vacation, making sure to pack a photo of her younger self with an older boy. It’s clearly a prized possession.
On the plane, Ha-ram dozes as the flight prepares for takeoff. Her sunglasses fall, and a little girl sitting next to her puts them on. When Ha-ram asks for the glasses back, she recoils when she sees a dark shadowy figure appear next to the little girl.
Ha-ram looks around the plane to see it filling with zombie-like shadowy people. Immediately, Ha-ram runs to the door of the plane, screaming that the plane can’t take off because everyone will die. Despite already being on the runway, the pilots stop the plane so that officials can escort the still-screaming Ha-ram off the flight before it takes off as originally scheduled.
At the police station, Ha-ram’s favorite pretty boy actor and his entourage are currently being detained for being drunk and disorderly.
One of the actor’s entourage members is chaebol OH MAN-SOO (Kim Dong-joon), who grimaces when he sees the news that the plane Ha-ram was supposed to be on crashed, killing everyone on board — not because he feels sympathy for the victims, but because it’s his family’s insurance company that will have to deal with any payout from the accident.
Back with the detectives, we discover that the gel-like sacs found in the body are silicon breast implants (something that adorably clueless Moo-gang has to hold to his chest before realizing what they are), which means the victim was actually a woman.
Since the police haven’t found a match with any missing person reports, Kwang-kyun orders Moo-gang to look up the serial numbers on the implants and find out from the manufacturer what hospital used them. From there, they can figure out the patient was — and thus, the identity of their victim.
Ha-ram is also at the station, being held under suspicion of terrorism since she knew that the plane would have an accident. Ha-ram insists she isn’t a terrorist, claiming instead that she can see the shadow of death. Except she also claims that she never saw so many shadows at one time as she did on the plane.
A woman rushes into the station, ready to fight the men that punched her husband, until she realizes that Man-soo is actually her boss (because she works for his insurance company). That doesn’t stop a brawl from happening, and when the woman gets pushed into Ha-ram, Ha-ram can see the woman freezing to death in a dark place.
Later at home, Man-soo is overjoyed when his older brother tells him that he wants Man-soo to officially be in charge of the insurance division of Royal Group. In gratitude, Man-soo gives thanks to the shrine he’s made of various icons and talismans, but he’s distracted by the sound of his nephew using his computer to watch pornography.
Man-soo tells his nephew to stop watching — or at least not to watch it in front of Man-soo’s (very cute) bulldog. But the nephew just points out that Man-soo shouldn’t be too happy about becoming the CEO of Royal Insurance since he’s just being used as a fall guy. Man-soo’s family will just blame him for the huge loss the company will endure after the plane accident today.
Meanwhile, Moo-gang sees Ha-ram’s broken sunglasses and tapes them back together. He gives them back to her, then asks why she always covers her beautiful eyes. That reminds Ha-ram of a boy from her school days who said the exact same thing.
He awkwardly admits he overheard her talk about the death shadows, and she tells him that because the shadows are black, the sunglasses block them from her vision. If she touches a shadow, she’ll see how someone dies — that’s how she knew her ex-boyfriend would be hit by a truck, and why she was so desperate to try and get him to wait a few minutes until the truck passed.
But now, Ha-ram can’t stop thinking about the little girl who was on the plane next to her that died because she couldn’t stop the plane. Ha-ram says she’s cursed — she’s nothing but a monster.
In the morning, it’s confirmed that the reason the plane crashed was due to technical failure and not a terrorist act, so Ha-ram is released. She leaves the police station just as Moo-gang is arriving for work, and he’s happy that everything was cleared up for her. Ha-ram just gets into his car and tells him to drive her home, ignoring his feeble protest that he just got there.
As he drives, they pass a man standing on the edge of the bridge, surrounded by police and spectators. According to Moo-gang, threatening to jump is a regular stunt for him, but he never actually goes through with it. Ha-ram sees the shadow behind him and tells Moo-gang that the man will jump this time, but Moo-gang just laughs it off, and Ha-ram grumpily tells him that she thought he trusted her.
At any rate, she says that doesn’t care — it’s not her problem, and she tells Moo-gang to keep driving until he drops her off at home. On his way back to the station, Moo-gang passes the bridge again, and this time, the man actually falls off.
Stunned, Moo-gang watches the process until the very end as the paramedics retrieve the body from the water, the man’s mother wailing in grief as her son’s body is taken away. Ha-ram was right about her vision, and as he thinks back to all her other predictions that came true, Moo-gang realizes that she can actually see death.
Later that night, a very drunk Moo-gang visits Ha-ram at her home, blaming himself for not listening to her earlier so that he could have saved the man. Moo-gang wonders how she’s endured feeling responsible like that all her life, when he’s a wreck after only one death.
He tells her that she’s not a cursed monster, but actually has a gift — by being able to see death, she can save people’s lives. He proposes that they work together, claiming that between her visions and his ability as a detective, they’ll be able to save lives. Ha-ram responds by slamming the door in his face.
Moo-gang continues to kick up a drunken ruckus, loudly pleading that she give it a chance, just once. Ha-ram can’t stop thinking about his offer, though. But she wonders how she can save other people when she couldn’t even save her own father.
Moo-gang’s tracked down the hospital that used the breast implants, and he asks the doctor for their records about the patient from twenty years ago. It turns out the breast implants were a part of a sex change operation, which explains why there were no hits on the missing persons list.
The doctor shows Moo-gang a photo of the patient, and his eyes grow wide in shock. Moo-gang lies to Kwang-kyun that they had the wrong serial number and that the visit to the hospital was a dud, since he seems to recognize the woman in the photograph.
Moo-gang drives to an abandoned factory in his hometown. As he wanders the dusty, empty space, he remembers being a young boy twenty years ago. Back then, he secretly watched the woman from the photograph beat up a female high school student, asking where “the tapes” were. Adult Moo-gang finds the name tag that had fallen off the student’s uniform all those years ago, and after dusting it off, he reads the name “Kim Seon-young.”
When Moo-gang goes through the school records, he discovers that that student’s page has been ripped out. There isn’t a senior photo of her in the yearbook either, and he flips through the group photos until he finds a photo of Kim Seon-young. As he drives back to Seoul, he passes Ha-ram headed the other way on the bus.
Ha-ram walks along a deserted road by the sea, apologizing to her father that it’s been so long since she’s returned. But she has a lot on her mind, like Moo-gang telling her that her ability is a gift and that he would help her save people. She starts to cry as she wonders what would have happened if someone had believed her back then — would she have been able to save her father?
Moo-gang’s girlfriend Soo-wan is a surgeon at Royal Hospital, and she happily hurries to the hospital rooftop to meet with Moo-gang for what she assumes is a romantic meeting. But Moo-gang ignores her cheerful chatter until she tells him that she has to go back inside to take care of a patient.
She stops in her tracks when Moo-gang calls her Kim Seon-young. Moo-gang wonders if she’s surprised that he’s found out her real name after she’s worked so hard to hide it the past twenty years, and she gasps in shock when Moo-gang shows her the photo from the yearbook.
Moo-gang angrily demands to know if Soo-wan intentionally approached him because of what happened twenty years ago. He says that it all has to do with whatever was on that tape. Soo-wan tearfully starts to tell him, “The truth is…”
One month later. Ha-ram looks out at the sunny blue sky and decides that today is a good day to save lives. Taking off her sunglasses, she tells herself that it’s worth it to try at least once. She even cuts her bangs so that there’s no excuse to hide her eyes behind anything.
Cautiously, Ha-ram walks through the market. She sees a mother with a death shadow, but when Ha-ram touches it, she sees that the woman dies because of an illness, which is not something Ha-ram can prevent.
At the police station, the detectives are all watching the news about an assemblyman’s son who is in the military and has been accused of sexual assault. Moo-gang keeps ignoring calls from Soo-wan, who sends him a message that they haven’t talked in a month since that night. Moo-gang just deletes her message.
Moo-gang gets a call from Ha-ram, who tells him that she’s decided to find out if her visions are a curse or a blessing. She starts to tell him about a man she’s found with a death shadow, but Moo-gang cuts her off, saying that he told her all that stuff about saving lives when he was drunk. He’s not in a good position to help her right now, and Ha-ram once again threatens terrifyingly dire things to his eyeballs.
Ha-ram decides to take matters into her own hands and attempts to convince the guy with a death shadow that she’s a fortune teller, and that he shouldn’t go near a shopping mall today. She even tries to give him money to not go anywhere, and the guy assumes that she’s some sort of gold digger.
Ha-ram grumbles that she did her best and is about to leave, but she can’t forget the vision of how the man will die. She turns back around and starts to instigate a fight, telling him to hit her. He refuses, so she beats her head against the table until she starts to bleed, then screams that he’s trying to run away after hitting her.
Moo-gang walks into the restaurant as the man is fleeing the scene. Moo-gang tries to trip the man, but Moo-gang ends up tripping over his own feet and tumbles to the ground. Still, Ha-ram manages to tackle the guy, and a confused Moo-gang arrests him for assault.
As the guy is taken away to the police station, Moo-gang (with Ha-ram’s footprint still on his back, ha), tends to the bloody wound on her head. He grumbles that it was hard to find her, and that he only did it because of her scary threats.
He’s also no dummy, because he knows she hurt herself on purpose so that the man would be locked up and safe from being killed. Ha-ram retorts that Moo-gang’s the clumsy on who tripped on his own feet, so he should just quit being a detective. Sighing, Moo-gang says he’s actually planning to quit, which makes Ha-ram quickly retract her previous statement and awkwardly insist that everyone can be clumsy at times.
Ha-ram’s still worried about what she saw from the man’s shadow, though. It was actually a hostage situation, and even though she saved that man, there’s no guarantee that someone else won’t take his place. Based on Ha-ram’s description of the attacker in her vision, it’s likely a soldier who’s gone AWOL. She and Moo-gang decide that the best way to prevent the hostage situation taking place at all is to find the soldier first.
They head to the shopping mall Ha-ram saw in her vision, and Ha-ram recognizes a woman who was one of the scared onlookers in her vision. They discover that her boyfriend ran away from the military just that morning, and they believe they’ve found the attacker.
The woman agrees to convince her boyfriend to come to a restaurant so that Ha-ram can confirm that it’s really him. Moo-gang is shocked that Ha-ram can nonchalantly chow down while they’re waiting to see if this guy is their potential killer. But when the boyfriend walks in the door, wearing a hoodie, ball cap, and a watch like the man in her vision, she nods at Moo-gang to arrest him.
Ha-ram and Moo-gang are happy to have successfully saved a life. As they go their separate ways, Ha-ram says that he was actually pretty helpful. Moo-gang tells her they did something amazing today, and repeats that her visions are a blessing, not a curse. Aw, then he saves Ha-ram as “Sunglasses” in his phone (while ignoring yet another “I’m sorry” message from Soo-wan).
Ha-ram goes to a sauna to celebrate, but when she returns to the locker room, she sees her locker door swing shut. It’s odd since no on is around, and it’s still locked when she tries to open it. Nothing seems to be missing, but she has seventeen missed calls from Moo-gang (or “Loser,” as he’s saved in her phone).
She tries calling Moo-gang, worried that the men she’s locked up have been released, but he doesn’t answer. When she gets to the police station, Moo-gang isn’t there. As she tries calling him again, she sees his police academy graduation photo, where he’s wearing a red thread bracelet — the exact same bracelet a young Ha-ram made for her childhood oppa right before he moved away.
Ha-ram is stunned to realize that Moo-gang is the same person from her childhood who used to tell her that her visions were a blessing, and who declared he would become a detective just like her father.
Just then, the military police arrive to take the runaway soldier, and now that Ha-ram can fully see his uniform, she notices that he doesn’t have the right rank — plus, his watch is on the wrong wrist. Ha-ram realizes that he’s not the original attacker from her vision.
The police station gets word of a hostage situation at the shopping mall — but this time, Moo-gang is the hostage. He ended up at the mall because he went to pick up the original hostage’s mother, who was lost with dementia. Ha-ram watches the news footage of the hostage situation, shocked by this twist of fate, and then covers her eyes in horror when Moo-gang is shot in the head.
Moo-gang is taken to Royal Hospital, where Soo-wan is the attending surgeon in the ER and is shocked to discover her old boyfriend is her new patient. Soo-wan desperately tries to revive him, but Moo-gang dies on the table.
Ha-ram, distraught that her actions have now caused an old friend to be killed, dazedly insists that she’s cursed. She attempts to hang herself with her shoelaces and slowly slips into unconsciousness as her phone repeatedly buzzes.
Meanwhile, a masked man in a doctor’s coat enters the morgue, looking for Moo-gang’s body. The man pulls out a scalpel to remove Moo-gang’s eye, but instead, Moo-gang’s eyes shoot open.
The masked man runs away in fear as Moo-gang sits up, his eyes a demonic shade of red. Moo-gang sneers that humans are so dramatic.
There was so much packed into this premiere that I don’t know where to begin. Just as Moo-gang vomited his lunch, the show vomited up so many details that I can’t fully figure out yet what’s going on, or what to trust. There’s definitely something important about what happened twenty years ago (the tapes, the dead body, the fact that Moo-gang was looking into a fire that happened then, the complete destruction of Soo-wan’s previous identity), and I’m assuming that retina scan room is somehow relevant to all of that. But it’s still weird to think of the bumbling-yet-earnest Moo-gang, who struggles to even use handcuffs, being something like a secret agent. Besides, is it really necessary? There’s already enough packed into this show without adding an extra layer of mystery. I don’t need another gimmick to make me interested in a show about a woman who can see death.
I just wish that this episode was perhaps edited a little more clearly so I’d know what details were worthy to store away later as clues to the full puzzle. Instead of the red string of fate, I’m going to need one of those crazy walls of red string as I try to track all the connections and timelines. As much as I’m looking forward to some Grim Reaper shenanigans, I’m also sad for the loss of Moo-gang. Although I do think it’s strange that if he’s really the boy from her childhood, why didn’t he recognize Ha-ram or at least wonder at the fact that there are two people in the world who can see the Shadows? There’s something shady here, and I guess I’m going to just have to trust that everything will be gradually revealed and somehow make sense.
Even though the premiere left me with a lot of questions, I think it did give us a decent foundation for Ha-ram’s character. We may not know why Ha-ram can see the Shadows, or what happened twenty years ago that’s so important, or why a Grim Reaper needs to inhabit a body, particularly Moo-gang’s body. But I do feel like I have a sense of who Ha-ram is: A young woman who yearns for a normal life but knows she can never have it. (I mean, I was sympathetic to Ha-ram the moment I realized she’s just as much of a fangirl as any one of us, and I may or may not be stealing her ingenious idea of using drama scenes to pretend to have conversations with my oppas. Not, uh, that it makes me sound crazy or anything… right?)
Which is why I can’t blame Ha-ram for wanting to kill herself. All her life, she’s apparently struggled with constantly seeing death and figuring out how to come to terms with it — what her responsibility is, or even if she has any responsibility at all. As much as she may shield herself with her sunglasses and ignore what’s going on, at least she still has the instinctive urge to try — which is why it’s extra heartbreaking when her efforts fail and she watches people die. Even more heartbreaking to think that, for once, she’s able to save a stranger’s life, but because of her meddling, someone she knew and cared about ended up being killed instead.
It’s no wonder that Ha-ram thinks she’s cursed, considering that she’s apparently never been able to prevent someone from fatally fulfilling her visions of death. But I have faith that there’s still enough optimism and hope lingering within, and that she won’t give up when she comes face to face with the Grim Reaper — even when that face looks like Moo-gang.
- Premiere Watch: 20th Century, Witch’s Court, This Life Is Our First, Mad Dog, Revenge Club, Go Back Spouses, Package, Black, Revolutionary Love
- Song Seung-heon goes from bad cop to badass grim reaper in Black
- The unlikely human-reaper duo saving lives in OCN’s Black
- Grim reaper Song Seung-heon and death psychic Go Ara in OCN’s Black
- Dying roses and burning skulls for OCN’s Black
- News bites: July 1, 2017
- Song Seung-heon and Go Ara for reaper-human romance in OCN thriller Black
- OCN completes weekend lineup for 2017 with new drama from God’s Gift writer